Originally this gig was planned as an all dayer, according to the flyer, but eventually turned out to be a three band event held at a bar near the Sheffield Academy. Thankfully with the gig taking place on a Sunday the Christmas traffic was virtually zilch which meant a relatively easy journey south from West Yorkshire. With doors set at seven we set off fairly early expecting the first band to play at around 7.30 mark but having arrived it appeared that only The Infernal Sea and Abigail Williams had arrived judging by the merch that was available, which didn’t bode well. The Mulberry Bar was a new venue for myself and was your typical pub with the back area designated as the gig area where the bands set up to play, though the stage was merely a step in all truthfulness. As time was passing Maltese act Martyrium finally arrived and didn’t look too happy when they did as they dumped their gear, sorted themselves out and set up the stage to play. They got changed too, in the disabled toilet I believe, as the guys donned some armoured like garb and new frontwoman, Mikaela Attard, kitted herself out in a cloak and face mask plus a custom made costume which you can view in the photo gallery and I’ll leave at that.
Despite the band taking an age to set up they blasted into their set and played to a minimal sized audience which I suspect only a handful actually paid unfortunately. With the place fairly brightly lit, it wasn’t too conducive to their symphonic assault as Mikaela pierced the crowd with her savage larynx which at times was utterly screeching. It was clear she was the focal point for the band as she contorted through every song, crouching down, dramatizing every nuance of the tracks with the utmost confidence, as she had the audience in the palm of her hand, which isn’t to diminish the rest of the band as they too played their part by kneeling down during the set as Mikaela ditched her cloak and mask half way through the set. At times during the set she acted like a succubus with the audience, tantalisingly delicious but perilously potent as each track was vehemently violent but veneered with layers of symphonic polish which I suspect would have been played by a keyboard player but was absent for the show. Did I enjoy Martyrium’s show, yes I did, but I don’t think the cavorting of the frontwoman added anything to the band’s music but in today’s fickle and very crowded extreme metal market bands have to stand out and they certainly did that.
UK black metallers The Infernal Sea were a sight to behold when they graced the stage, but it was a pity that the venue wasn’t darkened enough to make their show that bit more sinister as each band member, except the drummer, adorned long cloaks and proboscis like masks. They immediately launched into “Agents Of Satan” and the step up in intensity was palpable as the powering drums, possibly a little too dominant, pulverised the venue damaging the guitar sound to the point where I couldn’t hear it at all from where I was stood, and I was only about 25 to 30 feet from the front, so had to move closer. Once there the sound was perfect allowing “Way Of The Wolf” to detonate from the band with its acerbic and nihilistic assassination. They were a very visual band live and sonically visceral as the fluidised violence of the music was balanced with excellent melodies that you could grasp as on “Skinwalkers” which left only the mammoth “Into The Unknown” to close their set. This epic track was the pinnacle of their show, it epitomised what the band was about, uncompromising feral ferocity yet imbibed with macabre gradations that were layered throughout the songs duration as the vocalist had some brief chat with the crowd of “let me hear you” before yet another riff break materialised. A fine unmitigated blackened assault.
Anyone who has indulged themselves in Abigail Williams discography will testify to their absolute magnificence, especially on the last two albums which are utterly brilliant. Mistakenly this US band got lumped in with the metalcore scene back in the mid-2000s which for the life of me I cannot understand why as whilst the very early stuff has an inkling of it they have always been a black metal band and a very under rated one at that. Having seen them a couple of times before in 2009 and 2011 I was gutted when they split up in 2012 though they did quickly reform and release another album in 2015, the staggering “The Accuser”. As far as I know they have not toured the UK since 2011, except for a one off show in London in 2016, unless you know different, so this tour was very welcome. As the trio strode on stage, no intro was used as the band blasted into their opening track with outright malevolence. Like before the brightness did the atmosphere no favours but the band didn’t care as they proceeded to deliver a masterclass in sheer intense blackened extremity. I’ll admit here and now that I couldn’t pick out individual track names as each epic song was seeded with cascading riffs and blasting tempos. The drummer’s face was hilarious as he pulled various grimaces whilst playing his precision onslaught alongside each guitarists riffing melee which was schizophrenically savage at all times, yet tempered with serene passages and atmospherics from backing track where required.
Slowing things down the band played the 2016 track “The Final Failure”, which was announced hence the title, it initiated with a funereal like lead that built superbly with every second right before the blast jutted in. The clean vocal insertion caught me out but was a great addition as the band looked to be in a world of their own and distanced from the us all, as the track manifest a cataclysmic tempo change that fed in a cracking lead break and blast beat; mesmeric and breath-taking is all I can say. With only a short set Ken said this was the last song but it’s a long one as it gradually escalated from a tranquil peace with ever increasing power before diverting abruptly into the inevitable blasting phase. As the song gathered momentum both guitarists joined forces to headbang together before the track delved into a semi acoustic section. The textural components of the song were magnificent and I was glad I bought a shirt before they went onstage.
Even though this was not the best venue for all three of these bands to play on, they made the best of it and each band was excellent in their own way but for Abigail Williams were exceptional and they always will be.
WORDS: MARTIN HARRIS
PHOTOS: ANDY POUNTNEY